Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Public safety

Oklahoma inmate dies of heart attack after problems during execution

McALESTER, Okla. — A botched execution using a disputed new drug combination left an Oklahoma inmate writhing and clenching his teeth on the gurney on Tuesday, leading prison officials to halt the proceedings before the inmate's eventual death from a heart attack.

Clayton Lockett, 38, was declared unconscious 10 minutes after the first of the state's new three-drug combination was administered. Three minutes later, though, he began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.

The blinds were eventually lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from watching what was happening in the death chamber, and the state's top prison official eventually called a halt to the proceedings, although it didn't save Lockett.

"It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched," said his attorney, David Autry.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin ordered a 14-day stay of execution for another inmate who was scheduled to die two hours after Lockett, Charles Warner. She also ordered the Department of Corrections to conduct a "full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening's execution."

The apparent failure of the execution is likely to fuel debate about the ability of states to administer lethal injections that meet the Constitution's requirement they be a neither cruel nor unusual punishment. Several states scrambled to find new sources of execution drugs because drugmakers that oppose capital punishment — many in Europe — have stopped selling to corrections departments.

Several states have gone to court to shield the identities of the new sources of their execution drugs. Missouri and Texas, like Oklahoma, have both refused to reveal their sources, but both of those states have already successfully carried out executions with their new supplies.

Robert Patton, the director of the Department of Corrections, halted Lockett's execution about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered, saying later there had been vein failure.

The execution began at 6:23 p.m. when officials began administering the first drug, and a doctor declared Lockett to be unconscious at 6:33 p.m.

About three minutes later, Lockett began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow. After about three minutes, a doctor lifted the sheet that was covering Lockett to examine the injection site.

Patton said at a news conference that Lockett's vein ruptured.

Lockett was convicted in the shooting death of Stephanie Neiman, 19, in Kay County in 1999.

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